Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Because There's Always a Next Time

“Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.”

John Madden, Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (1969-78)



After the first game, one of the parents said, "Headline reads: The Tigers get pounced!"

I laughed. I knew he was kidding. Kind of. But it still stung because I was the head coach. The leader of a recreational all girls soccer team. The one who looks forward to teaching soccer fundamentals and teamwork and having fun, fun, fun no matter what level the girls are at. That's why everyone always gets a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season.

And it's always a big plus to have really involved parents that feel the same way, even after the other team runs up the score on you.

"No, the headline reads: The Tigers play hard and have fun!" I replied.

He laughed. Kind of. Maybe a little uncomfortably. After he walked away I realized that not one girl on our team asked me what the final score was. I wasn't sure what that meant, if anything, but the year before half the team asked me each and every game.

But we won many games the year before. Most of them actually. We're really not supposed to keep score, nor keep a tally of wins and losses, but I still do. I'm humble about it, though. But I just can't help it either way -- I grew up playing more competitively even at an early age. The same age as the girls on our U10 soccer team, eight and nine year olds. There were more girls who'd played multiple years prior to last season, with a few going on to play competitively.

This year our team is full of raw talent, with fewer of them having played prior to this year. And that's okay. That's what I wanted. Why I wanted to coach starting three years ago. Why I now have two other amazing coaches this year to help me. I had only played soccer in junior high school decades earlier, but I knew that no matter what sport our girls wanted to play, if they wanted to play, and if it was something I could actually coach. It was stretch for me considering my sport was American football, not the rest of the world's fútbol.

I'm all about the stretch assignment, however. All about pushing myself to learn something new while helping to instill new skills in others including personal leadership and teamwork. It my sound a little campy to the cynics out there, but it's true. And because our oldest Beatrice wanted to give soccer a go a few years ago -- and still wants to play three years later -- that's a win in my book.

Our youngest Bryce is now playing for the first year. I'm not coaching her team, because I can't do both, and I can't always watch her if my games are going on at the same time, but I'm so excited to watch her own raw talent get refined as well.

Like our oldest, who doesn't have the same affinity to sports like soccer as our youngest does, but who also after three years of a big heart and who works hard. And it's certainly paid off -- watching her dribble and drive and defend and shoot like it's nobody's business makes us really proud. Makes me really proud being her coach and her father.

Because that's what it's all about for me -- for every single girl on the team. Which is why it was hard to hear in the last game the following:

"Coach, can you tell the team not to give me a hard time? It was just a mistake I made. Everybody makes them."

This coming from another play who had accidentally kicked the ball into our own goal, thinking she was kicking it to our goalie.

So during halftime, I reminded the team to cheer each other on when we do something good and to support each other when we don't. That we'll get it the next time. Because we'll always make mistakes and because there's always a next time.

Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.


That's right. There's always a next time, which if one of the hardest lessons we have to continuously learn, both as kids and adults. We may lose every single game, but in the end the headline will always read:

"Tigers are winners!"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Normal Not-End-of-Days Talk

“Here we come out of the cradle

Endlessly rocking

Endlessly rocking…”

—Rush, Out of the Cradle

It happened and she's never looked back. The seismic shift was clear, concise and immediate; I'm not sure exactly when, but sometime before the start of school this year for sure. And now she says it over and over to seemingly affirm her newfound maturity, the painfully necessary grounding of the years to come. Sure, we knew it would happen someday, a transition that most parents experience in late childhood into tween-land.

I stewed on that during the final dog days of August into early September when temperatures spiked to 107 degrees in Santa Cruz that included a humidity we don't usually get. Granted, we didn't have the Los Angeles fires burning out of control, or the Cascades fires. Nor did we have the horrific realities of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, and now Hurricane Irma hitting Florida, forcing millions to evacuate after wiping out the Caribbean. And we didn't have the devastating earthquake in Mexico either.

Since Labor Day our weather has returned somewhat to normal as have our lives with school starting and soccer games for both girls this year. Even with having friends in some of the affected areas mentioned above, and after making Red Cross donations and sending protective thoughts and prayers their way -- when you're not in it, you feel far removed from it. And your only reality is in the moment of driving your oldest daughter to her team's first soccer game you're coaching again.

"Dad," she said from the back seat. "What happened with the hurricane?"

There it was again: Dad. Not Daddy anymore. I couldn't remember the last time she called me Daddy, and yet it had to have only been a few weeks earlier when the seismic shift occurred.

"Dad?"

"What Sweetie?"

"What happened with the hurricane?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is it hitting land yet?"

Prior to leaving for the game, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) was watching Good Morning America on her iPad in the kitchen while fixing the girls breakfast, and the Hurricane Irma story was front and center.

"It hasn't made it to Florida yet, but it did wipe out a lot of Caribbean islands. It's one of the most powerful hurricanes ever."

Bea thought about this for a moment. And then, "Will people die?"

It's not that we don't talk with the girls about current events and the realities of life, but these kinds of questions were new for our eldest.

"There will be people who get hurt and some may die, yes."

"How big is it?"

"What? The hurricane?"

"Yes."

"Really big. It's going to drop a ton of water and the winds are really --"

"I know what a hurricane is," she interrupted.

"Okay, do you know how fast the winds are going?"

"No."

I tried to think of how to explain the speed. "Think about this: you know when we're driving on the highway we're going pretty fast -- around 65 miles per hour. Now, imagine going two to three times that fast. That wind will destroy a lot of stuff in its path. It would totally sweep you and me away if we were on the beach when it hit."

"Wow," she said. I wasn't sure she got it, though.

We kept talking about hurricanes and then tornados for a few minutes and I explained that we don't get those kinds of storms where we live, but we do get earthquakes. I told Bea about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, what I experienced living in San Jose then, and what had happened to downtown Santa Cruz, about two miles from where we live now.

"So they rebuilt downtown?" she asked.

"Yes, they had to, because most of the buildings fell apart. All of Pacific Avenue."

"Will it happen again?"

I could hear the distress in her voice. She's a "feeler" like me, so I wasn't surprised that she got a little rattled. I felt bad.

"It could, but we don't know exactly when or even if it will happen again anytime soon," I said, neglecting to talk about the Mexico earthquake that had happened a few days earlier.

"What would happen to our house? Would it fall down? Where would we go?"

Her distress escalated a bit and thankfully we were just about to the the park where we played our soccer games. It probably didn't help that I had told her of all the people that had to leave their homes in Florida due to the hurricane.

The total trip to our soccer game was only a 10-minute drive, but it felt much longer, years longer, mostly because of this new level of conversation I had with my daughter.

"Dad, I'm a little nervous to play today."

"You'll do fine. Let's go have some fun."

Ah, back to the normal not-end-of-days talk. And while far from apocalyptic, going from Daddy to Dad has rocked my world a little. At least I've got a couple more years of Daddy with Bryce.

The week before the Mama and I watched our children play in the living room, still kids for now, while 1970's soft rock played in the background, and I remembered the fun times for me growing up and playing in the living room. The simpler times. The nothing else in the world matters times. And now we're both living it again watching them grow up. Mercy me, it was just seven years ago when Bea rocked a newborn Bryce laying in a car seat on our living room floor.

Endlessly rocking indeed.






Sunday, August 27, 2017

One of the 99

“Just between the ice ages anyway 
I want to talk, but I haven't got too much to say 
I don't mean to be so Nihilistic 
Forgive me if I seem to be too realistic…”

—Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache

I thought we were going to talk about something else. Something related to the same organization we volunteered for. Maybe about a project we were working on together. It was Friday and I was looking forward to the weekend.

But I didn't expect this -- he brought up being out of work since early summer.

"I've applied for nearly 200 jobs at least, many of them management jobs," he told me. "Mostly direct applies on LinkedIn, although I've tried to network into as many as I can."

I empathized and listened.

"And you know what? I keep being told I'm just not qualified for the management roles. I know it's been years since I managed a team, but still. My friends keep telling me that the companies only care if it was within the last year. Period. No exceptions."

"I hear you," I said. "That's the reality, too."

"I know, but you know what? Even the other roles I've applied to I'm really qualified for, but for most of those I'm not even hearing anything after my initial application. Nothing. Nada. Zilch," he said.

"It's been months," he added after a brief pause.

I tried to make the case that more companies are working hard on improving what it's like to go through their recruiting and hiring process. He knew I run a global nonprofit research organization called Talent Board that's all about elevating and promoting a quality candidate experience, working with hundreds of employers and analyzing hundreds of thousands of candidate responses via the survey research we conduct, most of whom didn't get the job at the end of the day, which is the reality for all of us.

I explained that, for companies that have improved the candidate experience, and the candidates perceive that they have an overall 5-star great experience (out of a 1-5 Likert scale) no matter how far in the hiring process they make it, they're more likely in 2017 to apply again for a job at the same company, refer others to the same company, and to buy stuff from that company if it's consumer-based (think retail, hospitality, airlines, etc.) 74 percent of the time. That's good news.

However, when candidates have a horrible 1-star experience overall, they're more likely to never apply again, to never refer anyone and to never buy stuff -- 46 percent of the time. That could equate to significant revenue and refer networks lost.

"Now that we're older, Kevin, it's worse, I'm telling you," he said. "We're just not talking about it. I'm in my forties and it's getting worse. I hear it from so many other people I know our age, but we're still not really talking about it."

"We need to talk about it," I said.

And I've got a decade on you, Brother, I thought. Even with unemployment being lower than it's been in over 15 years, over half of us are just not hearing back after we've applied for jobs. This reality sent me back to a time not too long ago when I was searching and searching and not hearing back.

And now I'm that many years older, and if I was in that position again (and any of us could be at any given time for any reason), it's going to be much tougher. No matter how qualified I think I am and/or actually am. I have a family and even though my wife and I work together to take care of us all, it doesn't take away the age stigma associated with being an older job candidate, especially north of 50 years old.

I remember the sick feeling of not hearing back from any possible employers, the helplessness and the shame and the frustration. Of not knowing what I was going to do next, how much savings we'd having to drain to keep a roof over our heads or keep the basic necessities on our table, of what we've have to do without in order to make it when the money ran out.

The fact is, it still really sucks to look for a new job, especially when you're older.

"Kevin, you know what I mean?" he asked, snapping me out of my forboding.

"Yes, yes I do," I said.

We finished the call and immediately I started to dig into our Talent Board Candidate Experience Awards Benchmark Research. The 2017 research report won't be published for awhile, but the same trends we've seen year after year include the following insights from this year:


  • 57 percent of management and senior management job candidates -- those who are Gen X and older (born before 1981) -- say they never hear back about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 6K candidates total). 
  • 57 percent of technical and non-technical experienced job candidates (at least 2+ years of experience) -- those who are Gen X and older (born before 1981) -- say they never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 6K candidates total).
  • 55 percent of all positions -- those who are Gen X and older (born before 1981) -- say they never hear back about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 17K candidates total). 


Now, compare that with the younger generations of today:


  • 45 percent of internships, hourly, entry level job candidates, technical and non-technical experienced job candidates (at least 2+ years of experience ) -- those who are Millennials and Gen Z -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 8.5K candidates total). 
  • 45 percent of all positions -- those who are Millennials and Gen Z -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 9.5K candidates total). 


And then compare that with gender differences of today:


  • 41 percent of all positions -- those who are Gen X and older and who are women -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 7K candidates total). 
  • 49 percent of all positions -- those who are Gen X and older and who are men -- never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied (about 9.5K candidates total). 


Never hear about any next steps 2-3+ months after they’ve applied. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Granted, there's a greater complexity within the hiring process when dealing with only more experienced positions and senior management, but the disparity of being older and male remains for the job seeker. That doesn't even take into account ethnicity or race, something our research doesn't cover, but there is data on this elsewhere, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Regardless, it's a business transaction, one where 99 out of 100 people who apply for any given job are not qualified enough and will not be hired, no matter the age, gender or race. Yes, it's a messy human transaction, but a business transaction nonetheless. Plus, businesses come and go, as does job growth (which has been pretty steady for a few years now), and even in boom times their are many people underemployed or those who give up their job search altogether.

Fortunately there are many companies big and small that are trying to improve their hiring process and the candidate experience for not only new hires, but for those they reject as well, with a better combination of recruiting strategy, tactics and technologies. Talent Board be celebrating dozens of these companies at the North American CandE Symposium and Awards Gala in Nashville on October 2. These companies understand the competitive advantage behind over-communicating with hires and rejected candidates, and providing and asking for feedback along the way, even before and right after they apply.

Most importantly, these companies understand giving closure to as many candidates as possible, which isn't easy to consistent do month after month and year and after year for even the most progressive of companies.

Because for those of us from any generation, with a family or not, and especially those of us who really feel qualified on some level for the jobs we apply to, it will always suck to be one of the 99 who never hears back.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Grown Men Friends and Fathers

It was the first sleepover for us. Well, kind of.

At least I framed it that way for the girls, and my youngest, Bryce, had something to say about that.

"No Daddy, it wasn't a sleepover. They didn't sleep in our room with us."

"Well, okay, but it was still a sleepover. They all slept out in the guest room last night, and before that we had pizza after going to the Boardwalk, and pancakes this morning," I said.

Beatrice chimed in. "No, Daddy, having our cousin here was the first sleepover." (Which had been the case many times already.)

I shook my head. "No, family doesn't really count when it comes to sleepovers."

"Yes, it does."

Sigh.

Yep, splitting rites-of-passage hairs here, but it still sounded fun that it could've been a maybe first sleepover. Like one with training wheels. The girls have asked more than once to have a sleepover with their friends from school, but we're not ready for the real friends-in-the-same-room-all-night-shrieking-and-laughing-without-any-sleep ones yet.

The reality was that Troy, my best friend from college, brought his three kids down to see us, all of whom are close to the age of our girls, and it had been at least two years since we had seen them all. A TKE fraternity brother, a diehard Oakland Raiders and a Rush (the band) fan as well, we've kept our friendship tethered by our witty (and silly) text banter. He's an airline pilot and always on the road, so we don't talk much and/or see each other as much as we used to -- all those college years and Rush rock concerts ago.

And like my friends from over four decades ago, Troy is also now a man of a consequential age. We've known each other for just over 30 years, and since college, damn if we haven't seen our own share of falling outs, falling downs and heartbreaks with just enough silver linings to keep us bound to one another through it all.

And to keep the levity flowing by repeating personal catch phrases that no one else in the world understands, especially our own children.

"Troy, Troy, Troy -- pick up the phone and shore up the Ders D!"

"Kev -- Mitch called. Ders will be fine dude."

Those were the more innocuous ones. There are others. There will always be others.

So after me saying the "Troy, Troy, Troy" multiple times, followed by some obscure reference, Beatrice asked me:

"Daddy, why are you making fun of your friend?"

"I'm not making fun of him, Sweetie. I love him; he's my friend. It's just something we've done for a long, long time."

And then I thought, There are stories behind the catch phrases, Sweetie. So many stories. I hope you and your sister will have lifelong friends like this. In fact, the good news is that, statistically speaking, you will. 

"Troy, Troy, Troy!" Bryce echoes and laughs.

We gave my friend and his kids hugs and sent them on their way. I hoped we'd have another sleepover sooner than later. You know, like most grown men friends and fathers do.

And we're okay with that.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Men of a Consequential Age

When we first arrived, I didn't think much about it. It bugged me a little, but I didn't speak up then, the fact that one of my best friends from four decades ago and then some, who I hadn't talked much with for the past 21 years, had gotten out of the car and greeted another mutual friend with multiple expletives.

It was again our annual trek to Chico to see another mutual best friend, one who had broken his neck during a swim meet way back in our senior year of high school. Everyone had already arrived and we were the last three to get there. I unloaded my stuff from the car and noticed Robby's neighbor standing in his yard, since I had to parking partly in front of his house, and I was sure he heard the F-bombs being dropped during the affectionate greeting.

In all fairness he wasn't the only one cursing. Every year when we get together we catch up and talk about our lives and the world around us and always make it a priority to congregate and elevate our connected spirits.

Yes, we're a lot older and supposedly more mature, having somewhat successful professional lives, and half of us having families and children of varying ages, but of course we're not too mature to completely devolve into our ranting, cursing, snorting, pig-like beings of old.

C'mon, give us a break, right? We love each other.

When you've been friends for over 40 years, there's a lot emotional crap that has transpired within our ranks. There are moments like Robby's accident that altered all our worlds dramatically, that forever bound us together, our lives and futures inextricably linked in a lifetime of friendship, always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

And for guys to stay friends as long as we have, even when some of us had a falling out for a time, that's something to celebrate with beer, fist bumps and F-bombs.

Now back to the latest visit -- after an hour or so I went outside to unload some more of my stuff for the weekend and in front of my friend's neighbor's house sat two little girls in front of a lemonade stand. A pretty decent one for that matter. They were both around my girls ages and they called out to me to buy a glass.

"Do you want to buy some lemonade?"

It's really hot in Chico California during the summertime, and this day was no exception. It was at least 96 degrees outside.

I walked over to the lemonade stand and said, "How much?"

One of the girls said, "Twenty-five cents."

"Wow, that's a great deal. You should be charging more."

I could see them thinking about that, and then one said, "Well, we've already made some money, and twenty-five cents is the going rate you know."

I could see about five quarters nestled neatly in the bottom of one of the plastic cups they served their pink lemonade in.

"Thank you, this is delicious," I said after taking a sip.

"You're welcome," one of the girls answered. "Thank you."

I went back to Robby's house and set the lemonade on the counter. It wasn't until the next morning I realized I hadn't finished it (it was actually really good). I also realized I needed to ask the guys to please keep it down when we were outside together in the backyard and to watch the cursing. Again, half of our group are father's with grown children as well as younger children like mine. Just like the two girls at the lemonade stand.

We are men of a consequential age, and although I have no qualms about the levity we share and the inappropriateness of some of it in the context of our pasts and the present, what we share doesn't need to spill out over the neighbor's fence to the ears of young children, especially little girls. My friends agreed, of course.

Because we're trying to be the good guys, we really are, and unfortunately today more than ever a toxic incivility abounds everywhere we go, one that has seeped into our societal ground water and continues to poison future generations. Too many hateful people think they can and should be able to do whatever they want regardless of race and/or gender and/or socio-economic status and/or political affiliation, spouting hate and untruths and running people down in the streets like what happened with the protests in Virginia, all during the weekend my friends and I spent together.

I love these guys, my friends, I really do, and we have a responsibility to our boys and girls and others younger and older to understand personal responsibility, consequence and empathy. We are men of a consequential age, and our friendship is telling of the healing bonds that can be.



Monday, August 7, 2017

When You Are the Poop

“My home is my office — to interrupt is lawless!”

—Portlandia, Working from Home


"You're okay with the girls at home while I go to this meeting?" the Mama asks, what I lovingly call my wife.

I'm busy working, so I don't respond.

"Sweetie, will it work? It's been on the family calendar for awhile now. I have to go to this meeting."

"Yes," I answer relunctantly. "I have calls, though, so the girls will have to deal."

"So, you may or may not check in on them if they need something?"

This of course was a joke based on the Portlandia skit called Working from Home.

I smile. "This is my work space, sweetie," I say, moving my hands in circular motions to represent all the space around me.

And so it goes. The part where you work from home and you have kids at home and it truly is a partnership with your spouse, who actually leaves the house for work much more than you do, except when you're traveling for work. The Mama and I have figured out the balance for the most part, but it doesn't mean there isn't comedic irony at times.

Like when you teach your children to text and FaceTime on their hand-me-down devices. We only let them text and FaceTime us -- Mommy and Daddy -- and we tell them not to text or FaceTime us while we're working.

Which means that's the only time they text us. Recently during three back-to-back work calls, I was texted and FaceTimed at least 50 times. They blew up my phone and my MacBook repeatedly -- and giggled exponentially the whole time.

*sigh*

Then there's the infamous Bryce who's hungry every 20 minutes and boundaries aren't a thing. There's been more than one call or podcast I'm recording where I've had to paused because Bryce comes out to my office and says:

"Daddy, I'm hungry."

And then I say, "Sweetie, I'm on a call, so you're going to have to wait another 10 minutes."

"I don't want to wait 10 minutes. I'm hungry now!"

*sigh*

Or the many other times when:


  • Beatrice comes out to tell me Bryce has hit her.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.
  • Beatrice comes out to ask me if she can have a sweet snack, which she knows the answer is no. Every. Single. Time.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me Beatrice has hit her.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.
  • Beatrice comes out to ask me if she can text Mommy since I'm not responding to her texts.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she can't find one of her toys.
  • Beatrice comes out to tell me she can't find the TV remote.
  • Bryce comes out to tell me she's hungry.

Text, text, text, FaceTime...


Now, I'm not always working out in my office, since the Mama prefers I stay in the house when she's gone and I don't have an important call, but there are the times in between working when we workout in our garage home gym, and that's either a great time for the Mama and I to catch up, or for me to have some me time with my podcasts and exercise.

But then--

A little head peeks out into the garage.

"Daddy," says Bryce, "there's a little spider inside on my kitty Mittens and Beatrice and I need help getting it off and outside."

"Bryce, I'm right in the middle of my workout. Is it a big spider?"

That question is erroneous, since a spider is a spider is a spider and needs to be removed, especially if the Mama was there, which in this instance she isn't.

"Daddy, please come get the spider and put it outside so it can live and my kitty will be okay. Beatrice and I can't get it."

"But I'm right in the middle of my--"

"Daddy, please."

*sigh*

"Yes, I will get the spider for you."

I reluctantly stop peddling the recumbent bicycle and go into the house. There it is, a little spider sitting on Mittens, the white stuffed kitten. I take it outside and shake it off into the backyard. I return Mittens to Bryce.

"Thank you, Daddy," she says.

"Yes, thank you, Daddy," says Beatrice. "We just couldn't get it outside. And you know how freaked out Mommy gets with spiders."

So, you may or may not check in on them if they need something?

I smile, hug both girls and go back out into the garage to finish my workout. I knew then as I know every single time I'm interrupted at home by my children is that, I'm home with my children. During the school year, during summer break, any time unless I'm traveling for work. That's where I'm fortunate  -- to be home with my children, even when they tell me "Daddy, you're always working," or when they text me "you are the poop."

Because when you are the poop, nothing else matters.







Sunday, July 30, 2017

Unapologetically Stronger

At first it was cute. Our children wanting to work out like us and with us in our garage turned gym. Headbands and wristbands and all. Timing each other to use our elliptical machine for about 10 minutes each -- although never making it to five -- and then kind of using the lightest weights to do a couple of shoulder press somethings and crazy looking bicep curls (with our supervision, of course).

However, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I don't wear headbands and wristbands while we work out, so we're not really sure where those images came from.

"Bryce, where did you get the idea to wear wristbands and headbands while working out?" I asked.

"Because we watched other people work out on the street wearing them."

"What people?"

"I don't know. People outside."

"It's probably from one of the shows they watch," the Mama said.

I nodded. "Yeah, I think there's a character on The Amazing World of Gumball that wears a headband and wristbands."

Later, I overheard the girls talking about exercising and starting their own gym.

"A long time ago girls weren't allowed to work out and get strong like boys," said Bryce.

"I'm already strong," said Beatrice.

I'm already strong. Right on, Bea. That's been resonating inside me for weeks now. And we're glad both our children, girls, have an innate sense of confidence at these early ages. Still years from tween and teenager land, we help build those callouses and muscle memory while instilling Kidpower awareness, safety skills and strength.

Because even though younger generations of women are doing things in life that previous generations only dreamed of, it still isn't easy. A recent New York Times article about why women struggle in business and attaining leadership positions highlighted:

"Women are often seen as dependable, less often as visionary. Women tend to be less comfortable with self-promotion — and more likely to be criticized when they do grab the spotlight. Men remain threatened by assertive women. Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive. Some women get discouraged and drop out along the way. And many are disproportionately penalized for stumbles."

The line that struck me the most was, "Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive."

Unapologetically competitive. A much more eloquent way of saying cutthroat, dog eat dog, nonempathic sell your mother on the street for sparkly baubles and cash competitive, abusive, sociopathic and violent as a means to an end, or just because the stronger wants to keep the "weaker" in check.

Thankfully I wasn't raised and socialized to be unapologetically competitive, which has been a blessing and a curse throughout my life, with the edge going to blessing (thank you, Mom). And yet, I'm not a women, or a women of color, and so I have no idea of what it's like to do battle with the likes of the unapologetically competitive man. Discrimination and sexual harassment continue to run rampant in Silicon Valley and the startup-investor world.

It doesn't end with business either. In a disturbing report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union titled Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians, psychological violence affects nearly 82 percent of women parliamentarians from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44 percent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term.

And more recently and closer to home, a US Representative, a man, said of another US Representative, a women, in response to a healthcare policy disagreement, "Let me tell you, somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass."

I've got a knot for your ass, congressman. Growing up in abusive family situations, perpetrated by men, I find myself completely and unapologetically unsympathetic to men who treat women this way -- in a free market economy, democracy or not -- even if they don't intend any actual physical harm.

And so I love hearing our daughters say I'm already strong, and I'd feel the same way if they were our sons and would want it no other way. In fact, we want them to be unapologetically stronger throughout life in the face of any and all adversity, without ever losing the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. That will be wondrous indeed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Vapor Trails

The first time they were all gone. The second time only she was gone. And then there are all the times when I'm gone.

The first time when they were all gone it only took to day two to feel so completely alone. Alone in a house that our children grew up in. Where we persevered through boom and bust. Where we sometimes felt angry at each other but always fell in love over and over again. Where we planned to solve the worlds ills and make a difference.

The silence deafened quickly and blotted out any attempt to fill it with transitory white noise. Comforts were few, sedation only slowed the sadness and so instead I kept myself as busy as possible, sticking to routine and getting stuff done. Stuff that in aggregate maybe made a difference, or not a hill of beans.

Anything I did, I saw, I heard, I smelled, I tasted and touched reminded me of them. Anything I felt; I became like an emotive magic 8-ball, displaying the gamut from "outlook good" to "ask again later" to "very doubtful" -- happy, sad, angry, indifferent, rinse and repeat. And yet, I lived on in the light of their legacy. I lived on with their memories. I lived on with both a clear conscience and with some regretful action and inaction, which is always the contradictory vastness of in between for many of us. At some point their vapor trail faded away, but their transcendent DNA is forever present.

There I go again, bleeding out drama like I do, because they did come back and were only gone for a few days to help out a family member after some serious surgery. They being the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our two girls.

Good God, just a few days and all that spilled out from the poetter within.

It was the same thing when the Mama left again to continue the family help and the girls stayed with me. This time it was the missing of the Mama by all three of us.

And then there are times when I've had to leave and the Mama and girls miss me; it was the same thing when I left to continue with family help when my sister was gravely ill.

And again when my parents were so ill at the end of their lives.

And then there all the times I travel for work. When I'm gone for a few days at a time, sometimes a week at a time. The missing is reciprocal and palatable when we're talking on FaceTime from afar.

These are the vapor trails of loss, each one a painful signature that fades away into blue sky seemingly out of reach, only to shine forever from the darkness beyond. Whether they're gone for good or gone for a time doesn’t matter. The divine constellations of loved ones can eventually guide us to the happy each time, and until the end of our time. Because their time is all time. I miss you, Mom and Dad.

God bless those who have lost loved ones. May blue sky bathe you in their happy and that you outlive the vastness in between.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Using My Wareness

"...when you move me everything is groovy..." —Train, Drive By

I just wanted her to wear something other than than the gray sweat pants. The shirt she had on was fine, the Mama had already told her it was fine, and I had told her it was fine multiple times as a negotiating tactic to get her to change the gray sweat pants and put another pair on. 

She didn't budge, though. She dug in.

"No! I want to wear these pants."

"Beatrice, we're going to be filmed today for Kidpower, and all I want you to do is to change your pants. You can wear the shirt. The shirt is fine. Okay?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these pants."

Think, think, think...

"C'mon, Bea. Why can't you wear different pants? What's your idea? I want you wear different pants that are darker. I'm sure Mommy would agree. Something darker. C'mon. What about these?"

We were in her room now. I held up five different pairs of pants, mostly darker ones and some with different patterns on them. Anything but the gray sweat pants. 

"My idea is to wear these," Bea answered.

The what's your idea? framework was from the girls' early preschool days and positive discipline and parenting. Instead of being authoritarian and dictating to your children about any and all things, the idea is to include them in the conversation and decision-making to empower them and literally ask them, "What's your idea?"

And Bea's idea was to wear those friggin' gray sweat pants.

"Daddy, you should pick Beatrice's favorite pants -- the black ones with sparkles on them," said Bryce, trying to give me a hand.

"Which ones are those? These?" I held up something similar to what she just described.

"Um, no, those aren't it."

"Then where are they?"

Both girls shrugged. "I don't know," said Bryce.

Think, think, think...

I picked three pair. "Bea, can you pick one of these, please?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these!"

Think, think, think...

"Okay, then we'll bring these three and let Mommy pick one out."

Red-faced Beatrice was either mortified, angry, or both. Probably both. Yeah, that was probably it.

Right?

"Daddy, didn't you know that those are my favorite? I told you I wanted to wear those!"

She pointed to a pair of black stretch pants I head, the ones with stars and other geometric shapes on them.

"You did?"

Does it matter, Daddy? C'mon...

"Yes, those are the ones I want to wear. C'mon, use your awareness, Daddy."

Now that was funny. Why? Because of all the Kidpowering the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) -- all the important safety skills she teaches to children, teens and adults alike -- an important aspect is always being aware of your surroundings, who's around you at anything given time, to stand up straight like a giraffe and look, look, look around and be aware, aware, aware.

Use your awareness, Daddy. We use that phrase loosely around the house a lot these days. 

"Yeah, use your wareness," Bryce piled on, dropping the "a".

Well, at least we had the pants thing tackled. 

"All right, Bryce. Time for you to finish getting dressed now and then we've got to go, girls."

Minutes later we're all downstairs and Bryce called out behind me, "Daddy, I'm ready."

I turned around. 

Wow. 

I giggled. Not laughed, but giggled. 

"Oh, Sweetie, I love you, but we can't keep that on your face."

"Ah, c'mon, Daddy. I did it myself."

"I know. But, no." 

I giggled again. Bryce had a big American flag bow pinned in her hair on one side of her head. But that wasn't the funny part. She had also taken it upon herself to put lipstick on. Lots and lots of lipstick. The Joker from Batman lipstick -- like the old-school Cesar Romero version and the Heath Ledger version combined. Swirls of bright pink lipstick around her mouth, with some of it actually on her lips.

Bryce didn't fight it much, because she knew it was too much and yet still very much enjoyed the act of putting it on. We wiped it off and minutes later we were out the door. 

A dozen hours later after a rare late night date night for me and the Mama watching Train in concert, a dear friend who was watching the girls and had texted Amy a picture of the girls hugging and smiling. She showed it to me as we waited to exit the concert parking lot. 

And there was Beatrice, wearing those friggin' gray sweat pants. Because that was her idea. And then there was me using my wareness, because sometimes I can. Right on for Daddy.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

Stay Classy, America

Something was wrong. We knew it even before we saw what floated in the pool. At first, it had been another Saturday of summertime fun with the other neighborhood families -- swimming in a neighbor's Doughboy pool, listening to our favorite records albums and AM/FM radio hits, setting off leftover 4th of July street fireworks with lit cigarettes, eating barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers and fresh watermelon, drinking over-sweetened Kool Aid and lemonade while the adults boozed it up, told dirty jokes and laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then it got late, especially late for my younger sister and I being two of the youngest kids on the block. It was well after 9:00 PM, the murky purple sky had turned black. There was no moon, only the pinpoint sparkle of stars barely piercing the night, kept muted further by the valley heat. We'd all been indoors for a few hours, watching TV and staying cool at our neighbor's house with their modern central air conditioning. Once outside, the heat drove us all again to the above-ground Doughboy pool.

That tingling frost of fear rode spread up my spine and burst inside my frontal lobes. The pool lights were on and the pool sweep, too. And there they were: dozens and dozens of empty bottles bobbed and twirled in the pool. Many had already sunk to the bottom. I was only eight years old, but I half-expected to see a body resting at the bottom of the pool. Thank goodness that wasn't the case.

But we knew something was wrong even before that; the boisterous adults, all our parents, had gone fairly quiet in the last hour before our creepy discovery. As we stood and watched the bottles sink, the smell of chlorine and alcohol filled us up with a dreadful nausea.

Then the party was over. Our parents told us it was time to go home. Nobody asked what had happened, and no one offered an explanation, and yet the creep factor increased as soon as we walked into our own house. There was trash strewn on our living room floor and in the kitchen. There were nasty words written with lipstick across all our mirrors. There was Vaseline smeared around our toilet seat.

Our mom told us that some stranger had broken in and trashed our house, which we knew wasn't exactly true since most of us in the neighborhood never locked the front doors when we were just down the street. She put my sister and I to bed, and then through my door I could only hear the muffled anger of my parents fighting, yet another night of my alcoholic father's abuse escalated further by the all day's drinking and the vandalism in our house.

Decades later my mom would tell me what really happened. That the neighborhood adult friends had been pranking each other all summer, and then one drunken Saturday night, everyone turned on each other and did some real damage to each other's homes. Some neighbors never talked again after that. She said that the pranking became an exponential revenge game, one neighbor punching back at the other, over and over and over again.

But it wasn't just about the pranking either -- she had told me there was this constant unfiltered judgement of each other's families and a certain few who spouted back-stabbing bullying slurs just because they didn't like something about the other or felt unjustifiably threatened by the other.

Today in communities across America, we seem to be more polarized than ever. Or at least, we're more painfully aware of the polarization than I can recall (or that historians could probably point out otherwise). And we seem to be collectively encouraging it, although I'd argue that the ebb and flow of political correctness isn't the culprit either. We've used that scapegoat one too many times, to make incivility okay and for us to turn on each other so easily. Our leaders and other supposed role models now use the "he said -- she said" bullying polarity nearly flawlessly and it's been fully injected into our societal DNA.

In fact, I just witnessed yet again another Facebook conversation dissolve into a hot mess of personal attacks, jabs, upper cuts and right hooks. Plus, as we all know, the anonymity of social media (like Twitter) has become a vampiric outlet for too many of us.

When faced with these toxic interchanges, my wife and I do our best to use our Kidpower trash cans (throwing verbal attacks away and letting them go) instead of punching back, and our walk away power, as in "leaving in a powerful, positive way," and we teach our children the same. In fact, the best self-defense tactic is called "target denial" -- in other words, "don’t be there." We don't get it right all the time and it also doesn't mean we shouldn't face a bully and stand up for ourselves, and there are many options and flavors of defensive responses including physical self-defense if ever needed.

My hope is that most of us in the muddied middle will again fill and slow the growing chasm for ourselves, for our children and for future generations. That we'll do the hard work of finding empathic common ground even with discord and disagreement. Not to live together in harmony either, because that's a wishful illusion, but to co-exist as fruitfully and happily as possible while working together to keep this grand experiment of our republic thriving.

Stay classy, America. Time to celebrate the beauty and bravery of freedom ringing, not the thin-skinned ugly of civility shrinking.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

This Nickel and Dime Time

Either you're in it comfortably, or it owns your ass. When you're in it, there's no sense of it, and your mindful presence can move freely about in all directions without worrying about direction. When it owns you, it's omnipresent and visceral and presses in on you from all directions with every direction being a painful reminder of where you've been and where you think you're going.

Or where you need to go. Like 15 miles at 30-35 miles per hour to eventually fly home from our Hawaiian vacation. Of course, first-world problems and all that, and we left in plenty of time to get to the airport on time, but it all started with the email alert.

The email alert from the airline saying to arrive at least 2.5 hours early because the security lines will be longer than usual (and you don't want to miss your flight). The parenthetical part of the previous sentence wasn't in the email alert, but they might as well have written it.

And that's when it owned my ass. "Amy, we need to leave a little earlier to make sure we get there in time."

"Don't worry, we will," she replied.

And we did leave a little early. Kind of. But the stretch of slow road with stop lights and the Hawaiian pace of "hang loose, brah" poked and prodded at my patience. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, doesn't have the same reactive behavior I display when it comes to time owning my sensibilities and flopping me back and forth on the ground like a baby playing with a new toy for the first time. Or the tenth time.

No, the Mama is quite the opposite, cool as as a cucumber, one of my least favorite vegetables in fact (insert tongue in cheek and head into butt). It was then the moments came like invisible poison darts from all directions and I squirmed in my seat and sighed audibly. I tried my best to be in the moment instead.

"I know I get stressed. But I know we'll get there just fine. Right?" I said to the Mama, not really all that convinced.

"Yes, Sweetie. We'll be fine."

But mile after slow mile flattened me like new gravities adding up while the Mama and the girls talked away about their favorite parts of vacation. I chimed in mechanically, but the poison from the imaginary time darts had already entered my blood stream and all I could think about was the nickel and dime time of all the little things that needed to be done that eats away at me like returning the rental car and then hauling all of us and our stuff onto the shuttle to the airport check-in and checking our bags and then slowly making our way through security where we could eat a quick bite before we boarded the plane and then me rushing the Mama and the girls to hurry up and eat and then the Mama saying don't rush me sweetie and that she wanted to take a quick look in the gift shop with the girls and then me saying they will close boarding at 10 minutes after the hour if we aren't there and her saying we'd be fine and my head swirling as if flushed down a toilet and then we all had to use the bathroom one more time and fill up our water bottles before heading to our gate and getting on the plane and sitting in our seats and the plane door actually closing 10 minutes after the hour just like I thought while I thought about the unsettled dreams I had just a few nights earlier about past do-overs that can never be done, and the waking lessons I want to leave my children with someday and the reality of vacation bills and work and saving money to do it all again next year while each year passing on more and more life lessons to the girls and their teenage angst-filled years to come and then paying for college if they go to college and then —

Breathe.

All of which would eventually happen as we turned onto the main airport drive and headed to the rental car return.

It can certainly own your ass, this nickel and dime time. I recommend cashing in on being in it when you can. Amen.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Because I Empathize

The girls screamed and scrambled out of the car when I opened the car door. That's when I saw it fly out and rest on the car door, what looked like a little blue wasp. The girls wailed ten feet behind the car while the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) tried to console them.

Only a few minutes earlier we were finishing a pleasant vacation lunch near Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau (Place of Refuge) in Hawaii. We sat in a rental car because a few minutes before that another wasp had been flying too close to our picnic table where we originally start to eat lunch, which had primarily scared Beatrice to death.

"The wahps is going to get me," she complained as we ate.

"No, it's not," I said. "And say wahs-pa. It's wahs-pa. Wasp."

"Wahs-pa."

"Good. Now, they won't bother you if you don't bother them."

"You said they were meaner than bees," Bea countered.

"No, I said they were more aggressive than bees, and again, they'll only attack if they feel threatened. Same with bees, except wasps can still you over and over."

That's really going to help, I thought. Well done, Daddy. The wasp flying around us was looking for food and wasn't going anywhere any time soon. 

"That's why wahps are meaner."

"Wahs-pas -- wasps. And again, they won't sting you if you don't bother them. Right Mommy?"

"Right," the Mama answered.

It was at that point Bea made it very clear we were moving to inside the car to get away from the wasp. So we gathered the cooler and other lunch items and got in the car. Having a fear of bees and/or wasps isn't that uncommon -- in fact, the phobias known as melissophobia and spheksophobia are pretty common overall, although people are stung much more frequently by wasps than bees. For Beatrice, it all started when she fell on a bee and it stung her on the wrist nearly a year ago. The pain and fear combined was enough to start the phobia reeling inside her and ever since the bee/wasp anxiety remains. 

Meanwhile, sitting in the car and finishing our lunch, everything slowed down. I empathized with Bea; my primary fear is of heights and I've worked on it as an adult, pushing myself to take on high places when I can, safely of course. I thought about what we could do to help her overcome her fear over time. We'll get there, I thought. In the meantime we'll have fun at our next stop, the honey farm--

"There's a wahps in the car!"

Jesus. No.

Flailing and screening from the backseat. The Mama jumping out and opening the back door on her side and shouting at the girls to get out. More flailing and screaming. Bryce jumped out. 

I found myself getting out and opening the car door calmly. Beatrice flew out shrieking. That's when I saw it fly out and rest on the car door, what looked like a little blue wasp. 

"The wahps is going to sting me! Mommy, keep it away! Keep it away!"

The wasps, I thought. Again, not helping.

After everyone calmed down, including and especially Bea, we got back in the car and drove to the honey farm. Where there were lots of bees. Needless to say, even after the proprietor assured the Mama that most of the honey bees were behind netting, there were still bees in the wild flying around.

But only Bryce and the Mama went in to taste the honey. Beatrice and I stayed in the car. 

"Daddy, why are wahps meaner than bees?" 

"They're wahs-pas -- wasps -- and they're not meaner, sweetie, just more aggressive. Like I told you before, they usually only sting when they feel threatened or their hive is threatened. Same with bees. We're safe as long as we don't threaten them."

"Can you roll up the window, Daddy?"

"No, sweetie. It's too hot outside."

"But the wahps."

"No."

Because I empathize. We gotta start somewhere, right?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Storied Life of Our Working Class

“He picks up scraps of information
He's adept at adaptation
'Cause for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay…”

—Rush, Digital Man

Over a 100 talent acquisition professionals, talent advisors and entrepreneurs sat rapt in chairs or stood fixated along the walls listening to us talk about the future of artificial intelligence in recruiting and its impact on the world of work.

It was a technology meet-up event in Toronto, Canada, and the consensus was that AI and machine learning will make it easier to match qualified individuals to the right jobs through highly-developed algorithms and self-adjusting assessments.

All us panelists agreed that the robots aren't taking over any time soon, although one of them added that these recruiting technologies are advancing faster than most of us are aware of. We agreed. Today there are dozens and dozens of artificial intelligence startups in the business of hiring people.

Nearly two decades earlier, when I first entered the HR and recruiting technology space, I worked for a company whose pitch was:

We source Interested, Qualified Applicants for software developer, IT, and Asian-language bilingual positions. You pay only for those candidates who you decide meet your specifications and who have agreed to an interview. You’re in control. Sophisticated artificial intelligence quickly predicts the likelihood of a match between interested applicants and a particular position.

It was cool. It was disruptive. It worked. Kind of. And it was way too early, even with the magic algorithm we had and the computing power of the day. Unfortunately it became a dot.com demise before it really took off. Since then I've seen hundreds companies over the past 18+ years claim their technology will help companies identify and screen the right applicant for the right position quickly and effectively, if not automatically.

Our panel discussion continued and we took questions from the audience. One women asked all of us, "Based on what all of you know today, what's one thing that continues to differentiate humans from artificial intelligence?"

Each panelist answered thoughtfully. When it was my turn I said, "The nuance of empathic interaction; our capacity to love."

I went on, "Maybe hundreds of years from now technology comes to life, but until then it can only replicate our behavior, faster and better, but not become it."

"True that modern neuroscience has shown us how bad we are at making decisions, but it's also part of what makes us uniquely human, the very essence of our ever-evolving DNA."

I babbled on pseudo-poetically for a few more minutes, then we wrapped up the discussion. The night before I had finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a wonderful novel about a man who loved books and through circumstances and life experience learned to communicate with and eventually love others again. I longed for my wife and children, to hold them and tell them how much I loved them.

Closer to my professional world, I also thought about the millions of us who apply for jobs everyday around the world, most of whom have a pretty crappy time in the hiring process. Per the nonprofit candidate experience research organization I help run called Talent Board, nearly 50% of us who apply for jobs never hear back from those companies after 2-3+ months. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Yet, for those companies that invest in consistent human interaction, communication and feedback (providing it and asking for it) throughout the hiring process from before they even apply to the final offer, the 99 out of 100 of us who don't get the job -- the business reality of this messy human transaction -- these rejected individuals are more likely to apply again, refer others to the same company, and even buy stuff if it's a consumer-based business (think airlines, mobile phone companies, hotels, etc.).

The robots won't save us from ourselves quite yet, but the artificial intelligence technologies in play today will empower and inform our dysfunctional decision making, freeing up that time to keep the communication and feedback flowing regularly and nuanced with empathic interaction.

It's also a two-way street. Recently I heard a story of a retail company that sent brief rejection notes with a little feedback for the candidates -- and a gift card. One of the recruiters received a nice note from a father who had lost his wife the year before and had been out of work for months, and was thankful to have the gift card to buy his children Christmas gifts.

Good God, that story gets me every time. And out the every 1,000 horror stories I hear about what it's like to look for a job any day of the week, regardless of what the unemployment rate tells us today, I hear at least a dozen or more positive stories like the above.

This is the storied life of our working class, our human capacity to care about each other even in the sometimes dehumanizing confines of employment, and lack thereof. This is so important because the world of work is so inextricably linked to the rest of our lives. The work we do defines us, good and bad, whether detached or passionate, which is why retaining our humanity throughout can never be negotiated or negated.

I smile at this because our two girls have an affinity for science and technology, as well as a growing sense of empathy and respect for others. I hope someday they will be part of a solution that helps the millions of the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged become adept at adaption, to learn new skills and find work with a conscience that provides a living wage.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Summer of B-hive Thrive

We didn’t realize our youngest struggled, too. The sounding out phonetically. The reading from left to right consistently. The transposing of letters in same-sounding words. The writing of numbers and letters backward so that if you placed them in front of a mirror, they’d read correctly.

We didn’t realize she struggled. But not exactly for the same reasons as her older sister. At least, not that we know of. With Beatrice, it was most likely the auditory processing disorder from early on that continues to cause some delays with her reading comprehension (although academically overall she’s doing pretty well). Bea’s spelling is solid, too. Just the reading skills and comprehension lag.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had noticed something was up with Bryce, since she does most of the daily reading with both the girls outside of school, although I had noticed the writing of letters and numbers backward as well. But it wasn’t until her kindergarten/1st grade teacher pointed out Bryce was behind with her reading skills based on the new state standards. That’s when we realized at least some kind of delay was in play. Possibly. We don’t know what we don’t know yet.

What’s interesting to me is that with Bea, the ability for her to filter what she heard early on was like a radio trying to tune into a station; she never really got there so translating what she heard and the appropriate comprehension and reaction was more difficult that other kids. She’s come a long way, that’s for sure.

Bryce never exhibited that behavior. Socially and even early on academically she's been doing fine. However, her speech was difficult to understand, almost muddied, with “r’s” and “l’s” soft and muted. It’s improved since preschool and now kindergarten, but her teachers had never noticed anything significant to highlight. Now, with the awareness of this possible reading delay, it’s time for us to get in front of it.

Again, we don’t know what we don’t know yet. The word dyslexia has never come up in any teacher meeting with either girl, or occupational or speech therapy session with Beatrice. It’s possible now that there’s a learning disorder present, one characterized by difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words.

Possibly. When your child struggles with anything, you run yourself through the wringer thinking about why, and if it was something you did, or didn’t do. Did you let them watch too much TV? Let them play games too much on their iPads? Didn't work with them enough on their homework and all their basic academic skills? Why are some kids the same age reading Harry Potter and yours are reading Captain Underpants? Do you give them enough attention in between all the work and life stuff you’re doing as adults? (And yet, they're constantly inventing things, writing stories and illustrating them -- and right now they're in the backyard creating a sushi machine. Right on.)

Or do you blame their schools and their teachers? That they aren’t doing enough for your children? That the latest curriculum is just friggin' crazy?

Of course there’s been a little second-guessing with us and what we’re doing and how we’re parenting. We’re human. For any parent who's ever struggled with parenthood and working and volunteering and investing in other endeavors alongside raising your children, and feeling guilty about not spending enough with them, I recommend listening to a recent Startup podcast from Gimlet Media. Being straight with your kids, nurturing their voice and giving them the tools to thrive are key.

On the other hand, we could sit around a Kumbaya campfire and sing the praises, or the lack thereof, of public versus charter versus private versus common core versus current standards versus Godzilla.

Instead, we will continue to do whatever we can to help them breakthrough and build their confidence to tackle anything. To bridge the gaps and instill adaptation skills in both girls, working within the confines and the opportunities of a public school system we still believe in. Ultimately there may be walls they hit in school and in life no matter the intervention we provide and/or facilitate.

None of that matters in the moment, though. We're in it for the all of them and are planning a summer of B-hive thrive, to read with them more frequently (me included), and to help sound out the words and improve comprehension of what they just read.

Wait, a sushi machine?




Sunday, May 28, 2017

Because We Could Be Them

“The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between.
Forever dwells in that moment,
Hope is what remains to be seen…”

—Rush, The Garden

We did our best to stay focused on our strategic planning, but the raucous laughter and marijuana smoke kept distracting us. The nightly homeless encampment outside city hall was bigger than ever and it had nearly blocked the entrance to the conference room where we met.

It was our planning retreat for the prevention of violence against women city commission. At one point an especially loud but indecipherable argument outside the door silenced us. One of our city advisors broke our silence.

"It's sad and ironic that only this wall separates us from where we could be. Many of us today are still only a paycheck away from being out there; we could be them."

I nodded and said, "I know. We're still crawling out of our last economic crater from what seems like a lifetime ago. But it was only a few years ago."

The painful memory of that distress welled in my throat like bile. What I didn't share is that we almost walked away from our home and our community back then. While I wasn't one of millions laid off from their jobs during the great recession -- one poor business decision by me, followed by a severely compromised income, and with two very young daughters in tow, we had to make some very difficult decisions.

Over 9 million people lost their homes in the U.S. during the great recession. In the development of 15 homes where we bought in 2006 near the height of the housing bubble, one-third either went through a short sale or foreclosed. At the time we could afford it until we nearly couldn't, and so we weighed our options on what to do next: either stick it out and work on keeping the house, or walk away and move to the midwest to be close to extended family. We didn't qualify for any of the public assistance plans at the time and our mortgage lender would not work with us at all. Even our accountant recommended we walk from the house, to get out and start over. Many economists echoed that sentiment for those of us underwater at the time.

But in the end, we never missed a mortgage payment, and we were never late with a payment. The unrelenting stress at the time of keeping a roof over my family's head motivated me to hustle, hustle and hustle some more. Both my wife and I hustled. Apocalyptic visions of living on the street were enough to keep us inspired to stay off it.

Of course homelessness is much more complex than that and a recent Santa Cruz City Council subcommittee analysis highlights just how complex it gets on a local level. And although homelessness is down today overall where we live, we're still living in a community with 60 percent of the homeless population living unsheltered within the city limits. Also, over half have been homeless for a year or more and also suffer from one or more disabling conditions like substance abuse, psychiatric conditions, physical disabilities and more. Sadly one in three have been in jail within the past year as well. Then there's the harsh reality for too many homeless is that there is a potential violence and sexual abuse that comes from living on the street.

The noise quieted a bit outside and we continued with our commission meeting. Afterwards we went went home and went on with our lives. The city of Santa Cruz has since converted the public spaces around City Hall from an open-access “park” to more restrictive office grounds, citing a purported escalation of homeless use and aggression. Which has certainly been the case. But everyday we witness the plight of what any of us could become at any time. We empathize and count on the fact that assistance from local organizations and countless volunteers, family and friends can and will help, along with sound public policy empowering safety nets from all levels of government that includes a continuous investment in public safety.

And the argument that dismantling most business and financial regulations today will free up the economy to keep us all employed, our savings intact and safe from being decimated by the greed of a few, and ultimately to keep us all off the streets, is simply ludicrous and ignorant.

Again, it's really complex and I don't know what the answers are. I only know that ignoring it, chastising it or criminalizing it won't solve the long-term homeless problem.

Because we could be them. And then what?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The All of Them

“We love the all the all of you
Where lands are green and skies are blue
When all in all we're just like you
We love the all of you…”

—Spacehog, In the Meantime


Then comes the part where there’s two related points in time, that when connected, intertwine and light up throughout the vast skies and seas of proud hearts.

The first came in a most innocuous way; watching our girls play at a friend’s birthday party on the beach. An impromptu game of beach ball soccer kicked off and the happy squeals and shrieks echoed around us. Some of the parents joined in, and I usually would have, but instead I just stood there and witnessed the joy of play. The running around, kicking at the ball and the sand, the falling down, the rolling around in the sand, the laughter, and blue sky, sun and sea.

And then there was Bryce – nimble as a ghost gliding over the sand, bobbing and weaving in and out of all the other kids and adults, stealing the beach ball and maneuvering it with a confident natural agility, losing it and then stealing it back again. Even showing up one of the better boys playing with them all. That was followed by the falling down and the laughter and the rolling around in the sand, and then a few more bursts of soccer showmanship, which is a sport she has not played to date. In fact, unlike her big sister, she hasn’t played any organized sports to date.

Later that day, “Bryce, I’m going to sign you and Bea up for soccer still. You still want to play this fall, right?”

“Yes!”

“Right on. I’m going to coach Bea’s team again and Mommy will help with your team.”

“Okay. I love soccer!”

“Five-it,” I said as I held up my hand for a high-five. That’s my own way of celebrating the fiver with my girls.

* slap *

A few days later the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had a Kidpower workshop to deliver, and so I was on to take the girls to school. It was a usual school day – getting the kids fed, dressed, teeth and hair brushed, and out the door on time, which we usually don’t have a problem with, even with the Daddy in charge. The Mama had already fixed and packed their lunches and prepped their backpacks, so I was covered there.

It was a usual day with one big exception – Beatrice had a highly anticipated, special appointment with the principal.

Throughout the year, all the kids at their school – kindergarten through 5th grade – have the opportunity every week to collect what’s known as Cool Cats (the school mascot is the Wildcats). These are tickets awarded to individuals based on displaying positive behavior with schoolmates, teachers and others as well as doing good deeds and classroom accomplishments of varying sorts. The children collect their Cool Cats and can then cash them in for cool stuff at the Cool Cat store in the office, or for individual and/or group activities.

Both girls had cashed in previously for cool stuff, but then Bea wanted to save up for one thing and one thing only – and that was reading the morning announcements to the entire school with the principal. Every morning the principal reads school announcements for all the students and teachers and students can sign up to read a few of them to the entire school.

She signed up weeks in advance to reserve her spot on the calendar. I attended the special reading in the principal’s office with her to witness the whole thing. Bryce is usually the bolder one in situations such as this, but they've both been making things their own of late; Bea stepped up and put her own stake in the “I own this” ground.

When she finished, she couldn’t contain the smile on her face. The principal thanked her and shook her hand and then mine.

“Five-it,” I said to her.

And high-five we did.

* slap *

“That was awesome, Bea.”

“I know,” she said.

Of course you do. It’s so inspiring to watch our children grow up and mature with a confidence I never had at their age. Early on we worried about Beatrice more than Bryce, and yet they both have proven fears are unfounded again and again. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks for them both in life, some of their own making, and hopefully they learn from them and build on them for a better next time. And we will do our best to teach them and guide them and support them in all their next times.

Because then comes the part where we love the all of them, always, and there’s nothing greater than the sum of all their points in time.